I am writing in response to your article, [“Relative Control,” October] which is apparently intended to be a promotion of the bookHow to Handle Difficult Parents. Throughout my 20-year career as an educator, I have encountered parents in many contexts. I have even worked as a school administrator and been subjected to antagonistic, conspiratorial, and sabotaging actions from parents. I may have been angry with parents whose actions or attitudes I found personally reprehensible, but I never stooped so low as to use such language as “wrangling techniques for a few of the toughest breeds” in reference to human beings.
As long as teachers continue to be encouraged to “handle” parents as stereotypes, adversarial encounters will continue to occur. Teachers need to change the script for this issue to one that is about “working with” parents who are acting out of strong concerns for their children, and learn how to help those parents participate in their child’s education regardless of attitudes or preconceptions they come to the table with.
Teachers want so badly to be recognized as professionals, yet they fail to realize that in the professional world, the customer is always right. Like it or not, parents are the customers of the education industry. When teachers act like professionals and work from a place of confidence and quality when engaging in parent relations, they will get the recognition they desire. And the added bonus will be the gushing gratitude that every parent feels for anyone who helps and cares for his or her child.
Director of Education
Roundabout Theatre Company
New York, New York
It is hard to believe that such an acerbic and damaging point of view would be published in an educational journal. Healthy teacher/parent communication does not begin by reducing parents to stereotypes.
Let me make some suggestions, as a parent. 1. Don’t assume that you know what a parent is thinking or feeling—listen to what the parent is saying. 2. If you must send a parent to someone else (the principal, counselor, the school board, another teacher) for resolution, make the contact for them, or go with them. That way you will know that the problem is solved, and you don’t run the risk of sending them off on a wild goose chase just so you won’t be bothered. 3. Understand that parents want good things for their children—just like you do—and will be there long after you have left the picture.
The urgency that parents feel is very real and comes from experience. 4. Don’t read articles that reduce parents to cartoons or indulge in laughing at them in the teacher’s lounge. They are your partners in education—trivializing them is not helpful.
Margaret Erlandson Sorensen
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2006 edition of Teacher as Relatively Misguided